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New New New NEW

12 Aug

As you can tell, I really don’t like to play around when I get an idea I like to run with. It just so happens, I have an idea I’m going to enjoy running with.

So I have created a new website, registered the domain name and everything. It’s not quite up yet, but it’s going to act as the official website for my professional ventures. Meaning that my professional blog will be located there, links to my professional works will be located there, even a store will be located there for my books and other professional works. Don’t worry though. If anything, that just means that there will be more posts here of just miscellaneous (read as incredibly awesome) thoughts about anything in general. You can expect stuff about reading, writing, music, sports, a little bit of life itself bursting out of these webpages. Notice how I’ve posted for the second time today? That’s something that you’ll actually need to get used to: multiple steaming servings of your favorite caustic cookie goodness!

August 25th is the drop date for my book The Dimensional Constant! Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for contests and giveaways. A handful of lucky readers will receive a free autographed copy of the book!

I’m finally designing the logo for this site. I already have it mapped out, but it’ll be coming to fruition soon. Also, I’m considering purchasing a domain for Caustic Cookies itself, so it’ll be causticcookies.com. Yes! “.com!” I’m seriously moving up in the world.

Plus, there’s also a really super secret project in the works for this site and this site only. Stay tuned in the next two weeks to find out what! I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Drop me a line, leave me a comment, open up a conversation. This is your space to interact with me just as much as its mine to interact with you. I live for your feedback, it makes my heart go a-flutter…

(Don’t tell my girlfriend. It’ll be our little secret).

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Post: Honesty is the Best Policy

25 Jun

We writers are in a bit of a bind when it comes to expectations. We are expected to entertain, but society often demands us to inform. I personally think it’s funny that we have to be the mirror of the world and reflect the faults through an ultimately empty image, but that’s a post for another time. What I’m currently musing about, is the fact that we are told to entertain at all costs, but we are damned if we don’t properly inform.

I don’t think it’s a conscious stigma or burden placed upon us. I feel it’s just human nature. People want to lose themselves in a different reality- but not one so different that they feel truly alien. It’s exactly why 99% of extraterrestrials in books and movies have a spoken language and desires for expansion (in either knowledge or territory). Hell, it’s why they even look like us. Most of the time, they’re bipedal humanoids with only a few differences in proportion. Why can’t we just tell a science fiction story as it is in reality? The story would at least fill our quota for information. Well, because we all know that it’d be incredibly boring. What would we call it? “The Story of the Microbe that May (Perhaps) -Probably- Existed Beneath the Rust?” Even the title makes me want to fall asleep!

So what gives? Why is it that we’re demanded to tell the truth but society has such fickle demands when it comes to entertainment? I think this is something that a lot of writers overlook in the pursuit of good stories. See, if life were a rally, it would sound a lot like a grassroots political event. You’d have a bunch of people yelling “we want the truth!” and a heck of a lot more merely listening to the speeches and being entertained by their notions. Now imagine that this is a Tea-Party rally and just across the park is an Occupy demonstration. If they both manage to go for more than five minutes without starting a riot, I’d be questioning reality- but let’s pretend for this hypothetical scenario that they can co-exist. On opposite extremes, and on opposite sides of the park, they’re preaching two truths. Now, common sense says that only one of them can be right. But, at least in this case, common sense is wrong.

Many writers begin their careers under the false pretense that there is only one truth. Usually, it is the one that they happen to prescribe to, but that’s not egregious or wrong. That’s merely human nature. The fault comes when one is unable to accept the existence of other truths.

There is no such thing as the truth. There are merely perspective. Writers aren’t tasked with telling a facet to a single universal truth, we are tasked with telling a truth. We’re not particle physicists; imagine if you had to connect every single fictional work through some sort of unified literary theory. It’s not just improbable, it’s impossible. These books represent entire universes and realities endemically separate from each other. Sure, you can find patterns (I’m a huge proponent of “inter-textuality”) but aside from the occasional similarity, you can’t unify all works. So how else could you possibly tell the “truth” and simultaneously “entertain” unless they are both part of the same process?

The process, of course, being lying.

You have to, have to, need to lie. As a writer, there is no other way. Everything from fiction to articles, you have to put forward a reality that inherently fails to account for the totality of everything around you. Whether you realize it or not, by not creating a comprehensive encyclopedia filled with every possible paradigm, you are lying. You are omitting, you are being (in a sense) deceitful. Now, is this execrable? Of course not! This is the very foundation of writing! Stories, lies, and fantasies! These lies tell the story of a truth, just not THE truth- only when they disregard reality entirely do they become empty lies.

We as writers are tasked with seemingly conflicting mandates. Entertain the masses, yet tell them the truth. It is ironically through lies which we can fulfill this contract with the world. It just goes to show how seemingly paradoxical and wonderous writing can be. Honesty is the best policy, but deceit is the best means of implementation.

Post: Don’t be repetitive (or redundant for that matter).

4 Jun

A Humana advertisement appeared on my television screen today as I was watching a program about the history of American meats on the History Channel (I was almost surprised they didn’t do something on Alien Jerky) and I noticed something oddly peculiar about the commercial. Well, noticed isn’t exactly the correct word; it would have been incredible if I didn’t notice this interesting tidbit. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a link to the actual commercial to better show my point, but the spokesman said the word “veteran(s)”  roughly fifteen to twenty times in the sixty-second ad. To put things into perspective, a sixty-second ad will probably be about one or two-hundred words. Meaning that the density “Veteran” rivaled the number of people who believe that the world will be destroyed within their lifetime. The point is, the frequency of this word was way to high for the length of the commercial.

Which brings me to today’s post: repetition. Now, repeating something is one of the most prevalent ways of assertion. In fact, studies have shown that the more something is mentioned as fact, the more readily accepted it is. Even if said assertion makes no damn sense. But there comes a time where trying to convince turns into beating an audience over the head with a verbal stick. This is an issue which plagues many new authors, and the axiom of the practice are their collective insecurities. We’ve all been there. We had some great plan for a novel or a story with some incredible message hiding in the subtext. But we didn’t want just the educated to pick up on it, so we’d throw hint after hint until we were sure you’d get the picture.

Usually, this meant that the reader would end up drowning in hints. The finale was burdened with becoming a life boat for our poor readers. Unfortunately, it can be equated with searching for a man in the middle of the pacific… in a rowboat. The great truths of our work were overshadowed with all of the redundant build up.

Other times, it’s a word. I read an article about how Stephen King seemed to really favor a certain four letter word (which isn’t even in my top five explicits. Really Mr. King, you can do better than that word. There are so many better ones out there). The writer of the article expressed a certain disgust because the word  seemed to be tossed around haphazardly. However, the same word was tossed around quite a bit in The Things They Carried and no one really complained about the profanity. Perhaps because it was uniquely appropriate. But these specific cases will illustrate that repetition is really a case by case issue. Sometimes it accentuates a piece and makes it poignant. Others, you get so exhausted of seeing a word repeated you just want to write the author a list of synonyms.

I remember my mother once compiled a list of my “favorite words.” All of which I had successfully “both beaten and asphyxiated to death.” Amongst that list are the words “preponderance, duality, inherent, propagate” and many others. Notice how none of those are simple; words don’t need to be overtly simplistic to be redundant. I somehow managed to take advanced vocabulary and make it so droll that I even wanted to fall asleep reading the words.

That being said, don’t tip-toe around words either. There are times when I’m reading a truly excellent work and I notice that the author seemed to be dwelling on something minor. I swear, I once read a book with enough synonyms of “scary” to choke a night-mare (Hah! Get it?!). The word “scary” itself was used precisely twice. However, I was forced to endure the storm of “ghoulish, terrible, terrifying, frightening” adjectives. In this case, the author certainly wasn’t repetitive- but they sure as heck were redundant.

Redundancy is just as fatal to writing as unnecessary repetition. Imagine trying to immerse yourself in a good read about, say, a virtual reality, when the author can’t help but use a million different words for fake. Note: the link is guaranteed to not have a million different words for fake. It is similarly guaranteed to take you to an excellent science-fiction short story.

Could you imagine reading that story if it was just inundated with similar sentiments and words? The plot simply wouldn’t advance; it’d get caught upon little nuances that may or may not be important to the reader. It’d be a failure instead of being as successful as it is.

So how can we fix repetition and redundancy in our own writing? After all, we are trying to tell stories and many of us are just trying to be sure that the story is properly understood. Well, first, you need to have faith in the audience. Many beginners delude themselves into believing they can reach a universal audience. They point to people like Stephanie Meyer (shudder, shudder) and J.K. Rowling as proof that stories can have such an appeal. Unfortunately, this is simply not true. Although both franchises are obscenely lucrative, they both reach only a certain audience. How do I know this? Because I know several people who hate those series. They simply couldn’t get into the books. My girlfriend didn’t like Harry Potter. She’s an avid reader, she loves fantasy novels, but she just couldn’t get through the first book. (But of course, as luck would have it, she enjoyed Twilight. She will admit that the wording is poor, even if she enjoys the story. The story, obviously, isn’t my cup of tea- so we let our mutual dissension of the writing make our relationship stronger). Point being, is that neither of these writers intended their stories to be read by certain people. Do you think Meyer wanted the kind of people like the Oatmeal reading Twilight? Of course not. Do you think Rowling wanted intense biker dudes reading Harry Potter? No, it’s a kids book at heart. And they worded their stories to their audiences. By doing so, they didn’t have to worry as to whether or not their hints hit close to home; by writing to a specific group of people, they were able to pick certain words that they knew reverberated within that sub-culture. That way they didn’t have to drown their audiences in hints and words. They already knew what was going on from the get-go.

Second, it’s old advice but… murder your darlings. I once read in Stephen King’s On Writing that he shaves about 20% of the book after the primary edit. His basic formulae: if he likes it but his wife doesn’t understand it, it’s gone. I’m personally more stubborn than King, I only edited about 15% of my book out in the first edit, and another few hundred or so in the last few read-throughs. If you only choose what’s truly necessary, it’s essentially guaranteed that your point will be poignant. No need to tip-toe around clues or shove words down reader’s throats, your point will be known. You just need to have faith in your own diction.

As for the Humana commercial, I think that hiring an editor would have gone a long way.

Post: I asked. He answered.

19 May

Great news! I had another flash fiction piece published!

Granted, I don’t get any financial compensation but the pride I receive in being published makes it worth it. An old sage once said “if you love something, you’ll do it for free.” And while I’d love to be able to make money writing (hence why you can email me to request my freelancing services), I have no qualms about gaining readership by writing for free initially.

However, if there’s one thing I do hold qualms over it’s the destruction of literature by relentlessly pursuing hidden meanings. Granted, as a writer, I will tell you unabashedly that every piece I write and submit for publication has symbolism. That being said, it doesn’t need to be beat to death by an analytical mob. Sometimes water means rebirth, sometimes it means cleansing. Other times, it means the characters are bloody thirsty. One of the most execrable sins against literature is to distort the intentions of the author by over-analyzing his words. Taking words and applying them to one’s personal meaning is one thing; that’s what it means to be art. Insisting that one’s personal view is somehow the sole intrinsic truth within the piece is egregious. So, in order to solve this and make sure that my meanings are clear to prevent future convolution, I am recording my thought processes and intentions. Not to limit the scope of the reader, but to allow them to understand the piece under a different paradigm and perhaps gain a deeper appreciation of it.

The name of the piece is “I asked. He answered.” And like numerous other flash fictions pieces, the title is imperative. The idea is to set the premise that you, the reader, is the primary actor within the play. When you are the actor, when you are the individual asking the question and receiving the answer, there is a psychological predisposition to feel a connection to the piece itself.

Right off the bat, there is entirely a different speaker presented. Why? Why would I go through all the trouble of initiating you as a character and then put another individual within the spotlight? It seems counter-intuitive. That’s fine. It’s how I want it to seem. But I want for you to feel deeply connected, as if you should be in the spotlight. You should have center stage. Damn it, you deserve center stage! Who the hell does this character think he is? He’s not real, he’s a figment of my imagination- you’re an inhabitant of reality. You’re above this creation. At least you feel that way. I want you to carry this primed sensation of superiority.

But what he tells you is confusing. He explains to you that he is indifferent to being imprisoned even if you would want him to feel stronger emotions. This configurations of sentiments is meant to be primordially empowering. This entity which you wanted beneath you has been revealed to be just that. His insistence that you want more though indicates that you are in control. He may be in the spotlight, but you control the light. His indifference does put you off, but the dualistically open-ended and resolute nature to his first assertion entices you to know more.

His last sentence is what gets you. It’s a sucker punch in twelve words. You realize that he isn’t giving the staunch callousness of assumed superiority. He’s demure in subservience. The spotlight is his prison and you are his captor. You realize here that you asked him a question as a tyrannical overseer. And that he answered as a stronger man than most could ever be.

This isn’t meant to make you feel inferior or guilty. The piece is meant to shock the system with the rapid change between two extremes. On the one hand, you feel primal power and jealousy. On the other, within a few syllables, you feel incredible guilt. This almost immediate transition of extremes is indeed reflected in the title. “I asked. He answered.” Notice how the second sentence is the complete opposite of the first? This is the hint at what the piece aimed for. As I said before, the title is extremely important.

Even the wording primes for this awkward transition. Notice the sharp assonance in the first sentence and yet how it simultaneously refuses to flow. As if it could possibly be what you want, yet it sub-textually refuses to do so. Everything about this piece was designed to simulate the sudden departure of power and the immediate transition between two extremes.

Where you choose to go from here with this play on extremes is entirely your licence as a reader. I hope you enjoy it.